One’s level of enjoyment in watching this game probably depends on how much someone enjoys watching the Wolves fail to close out on three-point shooters, see Jeff Teague miss floater after floater, and see the Wolves consistently resort to mid-range Taj Gibson jumpers.
Even though the Hawks have the worst record in the NBA, they are surprisingly good at home against Western Conference teams, notching wins against the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, and Portland Trailblazers.
The Wolves, for their part, have been exceedingly good at losing to bad Eastern Conference teams and are 8-11 against the Eastern Conference overall. The Wolves also have those impressive losses against the Suns.
After the first quarter, it was easy to tell what kind of game this was going to be.
The Wolves, in the first quarter, seemed to be getting wherever they wanted on offense, while poking away the ball from the Hawks on a consistent basis. However, the Wolves could not seem to get any stops and the Hawks just kind of hung around.
After three quarters, the Wolves still could not get any separation. Kent Bazemore was doing his thing, he ended up with 22 points on 8-14 shooting with four threes, and the Hawks got some big minutes from Mike Muscala, Malcolm Delaney, and Tyler Dorsey.
If you are not sure who some of those guys are, you are not alone.
The Hawks “star,” Dennis Schroder did most of his damage in the fourth quarter and overall was pretty up-and-down. He finished with 18 points and 11 assists, but managed to give back 7 turnovers to the Wolves.
Turnovers were killing the Hawks all game and, as a team, they managed to turn the ball over 21 times compared to the Wolves 13.
Usually, if the Wolves win the turnover and free-throw battles (they eked out the free-throw advantage by one), they are in a good position to win. The Hawks did not even shoot particularly well by the Wolves opponents’ standards, hitting 49.4 percent of their shots from the field.
However, the Wolves just did not get much from their team, other than Taj Gibson, outside of the star trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler.
What’s the opposite of a revenge game that’s what Teague’s having.— Punch-Drunk Wolves (@PDWolves) January 30, 2018
A lot of this space could be spent detailing a lot of the problems that Teague had tonight, but a couple vignettes to set the stage.
Jeff Teague committed a terrible foul on a Schroder drive that let the Hawks take a lead late in the fourth quarter, failing to wrap Schroder up as he scored an easy layup. A few plays later, the Wolves were down one with about 40 seconds left. Jeff Teague was pushing the ball up the floor and threw a half-hearted alley-oop to Butler, who was being fronted, that was immediately stolen.
The Wolves were later down one point with fourteen seconds left and had just called a timeout, which led to this delightful exchange.
Dave Benz - “Alright Jim, if your Tom Thibodeau, what are you drawing up here?”
Jim Peterson - takes a beat, “a play for Jimmy Butler.”
Of course, the Wolves failed to get the ball in and Teague tried to called a timeout when the Wolves did not have one, which caused the Wolves to lose the ball. Then Jimmy tried to murder Schroeder for some reason.
Teague ended up with 2 points on 1-12 shooting from the field. He did notch 10 assists and four steals, but generally looked out of sorts. Tyus Jones did nothing to show he could have replaced Teague tonight, as he scored zero points in his 13 minutes on 0-4 shooting. The Wolves point guards combined for a luminary 1-16 shooting in this one.
Normally the Wolves can survive a bad game with some Jimmy heroics. For most of the game, that seemed like it would be the solution. Towards the end of the first half, Jimmy decided he was simply going to rook the Hawks every play and drew a couple of easy and-ones with a series of pick-and-roll drives and pump fakes.
However, in the fourth quarter the Hawks simply packed the paint and the Wolves did not have much of an answer when the usual pick-and-roll sets weren’t working.
Weirdly, Towns and Wiggins both had pretty good, if quiet, games. Towns looked liked he could score the ball whenever he wanted, but he ended up with the least amount of shot attempts out of the starting group.
Wiggins had a few really nice skip passes when the Hawks started to overload the court on defense and generally played solid defense. His 18 points, 3 boards, 3 assists, and 2 steals on 8-14 shooting were consistent with his team-best +7 in the plus-minus category.
The bench really struggled tonight, which featured another bad Jamal night, as he took some just absolutely wild shots. Gorgui Dieng actually had a great night on offense, shooting 5-7 from the field and scoring 11 points, but Nemanja Bjelica was unable to get much going.
It is probably worth a re-watch (for the Wolves at least, I would not recommend anyone going through that for fun), to see if the Hawks defensive scheme was part of the problem. It sure seemed like the Wolves were getting a lot of mid-range shots from Dieng and Gibson, while Teague and Jones were afforded driving lanes at the basket.
The Hawks would not be the first team to employ that strategy, which keeps the ball out of the hands of Towns, Butler, and Wiggins. I find it hard to believe that the Wolves’ intention was to get Towns the ball so little when he is going against the likes of Ersan Ilyasova.
The Wolves now have to face the Toronto Raptors tomorrow night. This team has a track record of playing to the level of their competition, so let’s hope this was just a collective bad dream.